Happy Thanksgiving—And National Family History Day!

photo of fall bounty, including pumpkin, squash, mushroomsToday, November 22, 2018, is Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving has its roots deep in American history, when the pilgrims held a festival to thank God and their generous native neighbors who helped them survive the first year in their new colony.

We celebrate Thanksgiving with families and friends gathering to share a bountiful meal and spending time together. What do families talk about when they get together for their Thanksgiving dinner?

Forget about politics, sports, or gossip. Thanksgiving dinner is the perfect time to talk about family history—family medical history, that is.

With all the advancements of modern medicine, knowing your family health history remains one of the most important tools in detecting and fighting hereditary diseases. It’s so essential, the U.S. Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving as National Family History Day.

This Thanksgiving, take some time to learn and document your family health history. It’s the best holiday gift you can give your family to ensure a longer and healthier future.

How Family History Affects Your Health

You already know that certain hair colors, temperaments, and talents run in your family. Along with blue eyes and a short temper, your parents may have passed down certain genes that make some medical conditions more likely.

Some common hereditary medical conditions are:

  • Arthritis
  • Certain cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stroke

When you know the health conditions your parents and grandparents had, you can start learning about them, take steps to prevent it, and find out if regular screening would be appropriate.

Tracing your family’s health history can also tell you how high your risk is. For example, if more than one close relative has a specific disease, your personal risk is usually higher than someone with just one relative with that condition.

How to Collect Family Health History

Tell your family members what you’re doing and why. Ask them to help you compile the information. You want to catalog data about your relatives related to you by blood, those are your parents, grandparents, children, siblings, and your parents’ siblings.

Here’s what you should look for:

  • Birth defects
  • Childhood health problems
  • Age of death
  • Cause of death
  • Common adult diseases

There are two powerful online tools you can use to document your family’s medical history, share it with your family members, and show it to your doctors when necessary.

  1. My Family Health Portrait from the Centers for Disease Control
  2. Family Health History Book from Genetic Alliance

Don’t push it off for another year. This Thanksgiving, start documenting your family’s health history.

Your loved ones will thank you.

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